Work and survival strategies among low-paid migrants in London March 2006

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1 Work and survival strategies among low-paid migrants in London March 2006 Kavita Datta, Cathy McIlwaine, Yara Evans, Joanna Herbert, Jon May and Jane Wills Department of Geography Queen Mary, University of London Mile End, London E1 4NS ISBN:

2 Introduction There have been profound changes in Britain s economy, employment structures and labour markets in the past 50 years. Now identified as a post-industrial economy, Britain s economic landscape is typified by free trade, the rolling back of state regulations and welfare provisions, the promotion of flexibility at work and antipathy to trade union organisation. Such transformations have profoundly reconfigured the labour market where there has been a shift in the kinds of jobs that are available, a change in the sensibility of work, the characteristics of the workforce, and in the politics of employment. Nowhere are these changes more apparent than in London. Not only was the city and its institutions, like the Offices of Whitehall and the House of Commons, the driving force behind neo-liberal policy in the 1980s, London has also become an important node in the movement of capital, goods and information. The positive spin-offs of this have been the emergence of a global city, home to many of the major banks, international markets and transnational corporations that manage the processes of globalisation with growing numbers of highly skilled and elite professional workers. Yet, London as a global city is also implicated in the processes of globalisation which have led to a growing disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor, both within and between countries (Sassen, 1991). In London, polarisation is evidenced by a growing inequality between the growing numbers of professional workers at the top of the labour market hierarchy, those left behind at the bottom and a falling out in the middle (ibid.; but also Hamnett, 1994 for a critique). As such, work itself remains very unevenly and unfairly distributed with unskilled workers and those facing particular discrimination having specific problems in securing decent employment. Inequality has increased between those in work, and between households with employed workers and those without. i Perhaps most critical in this context is the fact that the labour market in London is characterised by the growth of not only well-paid top-end jobs but also poorly paid employment with rising levels of inequality between skilled and semi/unskilled workers and the emergence of the working poor (Goos and Manning, 2003; May et al., 2006). While we know relatively little about this bottomend of the labour market, emerging evidence suggests that it is dominated by migrant workers from the Global South and from the post-socialist countries. Furthermore, there is also clear evidence that these workers are critical to the everyday functioning of London given their predominance in the public reproductive and services sector (such as cleaning, caring and hospitality) which literally keeps London working (Evans et al., 2005). Also significant is that many of these workers are not concentrated in informal economic activities, but rather are integrated into the formal labour market, albeit in unequal ways (supporting Samers, 2002 claim that challenges Sassen, 1991). However, in spite of the vital economic contributions migrants 1

3 make, little attention has been afforded to their experiences of working and living in global cities such as London. Migrants continue to be marginalised in public discourse and policy such that they are not accommodated into the labour market or indeed society on equal terms. It is in this context that we argue that there is an urgent need to focus on low-paid migrant workers in London but from a holistic perspective. As such, we argue that we must not only examine how migrants are inserted into the London labour market in relation to the nature and conditions of their work (for which see Evans et al., 2005; May et al., 2006), but also on work-home connections and migrants household situations. A conceptual framework that enables us to make these connections is that of coping strategies which has been developed largely in research on the Global South and, to a lesser extent, in post-socialist countries. We would contend that it is through an examination of the coping strategies that migrants develop at a number of different scales that we are better able to understand the ways in which people make a living and a life in an expensive global city like London. Drawing upon original survey and interview data, this paper outlines individual, household and community level coping strategies that workers create in order to survive. These include both individual and collective income-maximising and expenditure-minimising mechanisms, as well the use of ethnic-based networks that operate at a community level. The paper concludes by highlighting how migrants workers are not passive victims in the functioning of a global city such as London, but rather as agents capable of creating several short- and long-term coping strategies to manage and in some cases improve their lives in the future. Migration, work and survival: key debates It is estimated that by the year 2000, around 175 million people resided outside their country of birth meaning that one out of every 35 people in the world was an international migrant (IOM, 2005: 379). Just over half of these migrants were economically active, with the majority residing in industrialised nations, mainly in USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, France and Germany (ILO, 2004). These migration flows comprised mainly of people moving from countries in the Global South, together with an increasing movement from Central and Eastern European countries to Northern Europe, particularly from the new European Union Member States (A8) following EU enlargement in 2004 (Portes and French, 2005). Thus, while migrant workers have been characteristic of the functioning of the global economy for many centuries, they are a growing presence, especially in the economies of the industrialised North. The underlying causes of migration in general are manifold and highly complex ranging from individual, household to macro-structural factors. Indeed, the search for conceptual frameworks to 2

4 explain migration has been a major preoccupation of migration researchers for decades. These have variously emphasised the agency of migrants in the face of economic conditions (the neoclassical approach), the structural conditions of local and global labour markets (the Marxist political economy approach), or a combination of both (the structuration approach) (Castles and Miller, 2003; Skeldon, 1997). More recent frameworks have tried to highlight the role of both personal and local factors alongside meso- and macro-level conditions for migration movements. These include a household strategies approach that emphasises the role of families as well as gender (Chant and Radcliffe, 1992), and a social networks approach which focuses on how migration is facilitated by family, kin and community networks (Hagan, 1998; Massey et al., 1993). The most recent, and perhaps most contested in terms of definition, has been a focus on transnationalism and transmigration. This approach stresses the interconnections and networks developed among migrant groups between source and destinations areas and how social, cultural and economic fields often become transnational in nature (Glick-Schiller et al., 1992; Kivisto, 2001; Portes, 2003; Vertovec, 2004). In practice, people move for a host of specific reasons such as political conflict, repression, famine, poverty, the search for economic and/or educational betterment, and family obligations. Repeatedly, however, empirical studies have found that economic factors, in various guises, are often major considerations for migrants, albeit that these concerns intersect with gender, race and class as migrants negotiate their identities in the context in which they decide whether to move (Olwig and Sørensen, 2002; Silvey and Lawson, 1999; Pessar, 2005). Therefore, whether by design or not, many migrants end up as migrant workers in the country they have moved to. Perhaps not surprisingly then, much research has focused on the labour market experiences of migrants after they have decided to leave. Arriving in global cities such as London, migrants have been inserted into an economy which has been radically restructured. Classified variously as the new economy, the post-industrial era, post-fordism or neo-fordism, these changes can be attributed to the workings of neo-liberalism and the re-shaping of economies along the principles of free market economics involving intense competition and growing individualism (McDowell, 2004). In Britain, these policies have contributed to, and developed alongside, the decline in manufacturing and a dramatic expansion of the service sector. The service sector has tended to provide a growing number of jobs at both the top and bottom ends of the labour market. There has been an increase in the demand for those with professional qualifications alongside a strong demand for those willing to do routinised, semiskilled and poorly-paid work (Sassen, 1991, 1996; McDowell, 2004; Goos and Manning, 2003). The use of subcontracting, agency staffing and temporary employment contracts have all made such bottom end jobs less secure. Added to this, legislative changes and the associated decline in 3

5 trade union power have made it much harder for workers to organise collectively to improve their conditions of work (for examples from the public sector and of the home care and the hospitality industries in particular, see Wills, 2001; 2003; 2005). In this context, it is perhaps no surprise that there have been changes in the characteristics of those doing these jobs. Although long associated with women s work, these bottom end service jobs are also drawing increasing numbers of black and minority ethnic and migrant workers into employment (Holgate, 2004; May et al., 2006; McDowell, 2004). Of course, the British reliance on migrant labour is nothing new (Dustman et al. 2003, Hamnett 2003; McDowell, 2004). While each wave of migration has been distinctive, what is apparent is that migrants are becoming increasingly important to the functioning of global cities such as London, arguably constituting a reserve army of labour, and creating a migrant division of labour (May et al., 2006). Male and female migrants, especially those from the Global South, have become an indispensable workforce in the low-paid service sectors of the economy both in London and elsewhere (Ehrenreich and Hochschild [ed], 2002; Sassen, 1991, 1996). This new migrant division of labour is being slowly and geographically unevenly reflected in academic research and debate. There is now a significant body of research into the situation in the USA, especially regarding Latin American migrants (Gilbertson, 1995; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila, 1997; Kyle 1999; Portes et al., 2002), with some focused on Europe (Corkhill, 2001; Reyneri, 2004; Solé and Parella, 2003). However, research has been more limited in the UK. This said, the last decade has witnessed an increasing recognition of the importance of migrant experiences by policy makers and the government in Britain (Glover et al, 2001; Portes and French, 2005; TUC, 2003), and there has been a considerable body of work exploring the role played by policy and legislation in encouraging or limiting migration (Flynn, 2004; 2005; Lewis and Neil, 2005, Sales, 2005 on the 2002 White Paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven). This research focus reflects the way in which the British government has begun to develop a system of managed migration into the UK over the last few years. In distinction to previous policy goals that sought to minimise immigration, the government has sought to restrict unplanned migration by refugees and asylum seekers in favour of planned migration by those looking for work (see Flynn, 2003; 2005; Morris, 2004; May et al., 2006). There are now a plethora of schemes, each having different rights to stay, access to benefits and prospects for residency in the long term. ii In addition to this research into new systems of managed migration other bodies of work have explored the ways in which migrants access the labour market in relation to educational attainment (Dale et al., 2002), how they use social networks (Poros, 2001), the issue of deskilling through movement (Bloch, 2006) and the failure of the British system to recognise foreign qualifications 4

6 (Buck et al 2002; Glover et al 2001; Lagnado, 2004; McIlwaine, 2005). There is also a growing body of research that has focused on the concentration of migrants in poorly paid work with the almost complete absence of a social wage, and high levels of exploitation and abuse (Haque et al., 2002; Anderson and Rogaly, 2005; Pai, 2004). Not surprisingly perhaps, London has been the focus of some of this research (Anderson 2000, 2001a, 2001b; Ardill and Cross, 1987; Cox and Watt, 2002; Evans et al., 2006; Jordan and Duvell, 2002). Yet, while the survival of migrant workers is implicit in much research on migration and employment, most studies have tended to focus on the specific working conditions of migrants in the labour market as well as on migrants as individuals rather than as members of households, families or communities. As such, there has been little consideration of their wider social and economic experiences (Glover et al., 2001). Although there has been some work on coping strategies among immigrant communities in the USA (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Menjívar, 2000; Mueller, 1994; Schmalzbauer, 2002), and to a lesser extent in Europe (Kosic and Triandafyllidou, 2003), there remains little corresponding research amongst migrants the UK. This is perhaps surprising given the long history of research on household coping strategies in the Global South. Rooted in a recognition of the importance of informal economies in the Global South (Castells and Portes, 1989; Roberts, 1994), work on survival or coping strategies burgeoned in the 1980s and 1990s as developing world economies underwent dramatic economic restructuring mainly as a result of the implementation of the neo-liberal inspired Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). Influenced heavily by the work of feminist researchers (Sparr [ed], 1994), research considered how poor people, and especially poor women, managed to cope in the face of widespread economic exigency that resulted from the implementation of SAPs (Elson, 1992). Drawing on a range of empirical settings, two main types of strategies were conceptualised; first, expenditure-minimising (Benería and Roldán, 1987) or negative strategies (Gonzáles de la Rocha, 1991) that involved curtailing consumption such as changes in diet, cutbacks in use of utilities and so on; and second, income-maximising (Benería and Roldán, 1987) or positive strategies (Gonzáles de la Rocha, 1991) that entailed generating additional sources of earnings, such as working extra hours or more household members entering the labour market (Chant, 1996). It was also recognised that not only did women bear the brunt of increased poverty disproportionately, but they were also more likely to have ultimate responsibility for household survival (Elson, 1992). In turn, strategies were recognised as operating at individual, household and community levels, to be a combination of reactive response and proactive design, and to vary according to structural exogenous factors and those associated with the life course (Rakodi, 1991; Moen and Wethington, 1992). More recently, Rakodi (1999: 320) has consolidated this early work with that on re-conceptualisations of poverty to identify four main types of strategies: strategies to 5

7 increase resources, strategies to change the quantity of human capital, strategies involving drawing on stocks of social capital, and strategies to mitigate or limit a decline in consumption (also Moser, 1998). This research from the Global South has also influenced more recent work on what are often termed alternative economic practices under post-socialism that involve market and non-market practices such as self-provisioning and reciprocity networks (Clarke, 2002; Smith and Stenning, 2006). The conceptual elements of this research also elide with that on the Global South in terms of providing further critique of the voluntarism that is often implied by the use of the term strategies and the way in which household- and community-based mechanisms do not necessarily entail consensus especially on grounds of gender and age (ibid., Wallace, 2002). Despite the fact that there has been a considerable body of research to explore the work-life balance and how the labour market and home intersect in countries like Britain (for example, Hyman, Scholarios and Baldry 2005; Jarvis, 1999, McDowell et al., 2005; see also Mueller, 1994; Pratt and Hanson, 1991 on the US), there has been no research into the ways in which poor migrant workers survive in the UK. Building upon various elements of the research discussed here, this paper focuses on the coping strategies developed by migrants in the workplace and beyond, at individual, household, and community scales. We argue that these strategies involve both the operation of structural conditions and the agency of migrants in their design. iii Work and migration in London While there has been little in-depth research into the lives of migrant workers in London, and especially in the low-paying reaches of the London economy, some recent work has provided interesting insights into the functioning of the labour market primarily from a quantitative perspective. As illustrated above, the profound economic changes which have taken place at a national level have been replicated or intensified in London. In the last two decades there has been an expansion of jobs for white-collar qualified service workers employed in the banking, finance and creative industries, and a contraction in work in manufacturing (Hamnett, 2003: 31). In turn, there has also been an increase in the low-paid, low skill end of the labour market (despite some argument over the specific character of these shifts (Goos and Manning, 2003; Hamnett, 1994, 1996; Samers, 2002)). The extent of growing inequality in the London labour market is evidenced by recent GLA figures that show that 1 in 7 workers in London earn less than what they call a poverty threshold wage of 5.80 an hour and as many as 1 in 5 earn less than a living wage of 6.70 an hour (GLA, 2005). iv 6

8 More than half a million workers in London (400,000 full-time and 300,000 part-time workers) are estimated to earn less than this living wage, and the cost of such low wages puts added strain on families, communities and public service provision. In turn, over the last thirty years, income polarisation has increased in London with professional workers at the top-end of the occupational hierarchy not only commanding higher salaries but also experiencing much faster rates of wage growth. The gap between the richest and poorest households has also increased (Buck et al., 2002). Many of those in the lower echelons of the labour market are migrants. Indeed, London receives around one-third of all migrants to the UK and it is estimated that between 1975 and 2000, some 450,000 migrants migrated to London (Hamnett, 2003). Furthermore, many of these migrants were recent arrivals. Drawing on the latest Labour Survey Force (2002/2003) and the 2001 UK Census, Spence (2005) notes that out of the 2 million Londoners born outside of the UK, 23% arrived in this country before 1970, and 45% arrived after The ethnic profile of migrants is also diverse with Whites constituting the largest group (40%), followed by Asians (27%) and Blacks (20%). Also significant is that the majority of London s migrants come from the Global South (70%), with India, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Nigeria, Pakistan and Kenya providing the largest groups. Migrants now account for 35% of the working age population and 29% of the total population in the capital (ibid). Furthermore, these figures do not account for informal workers, including undocumented migrants, so that the true size of the economically active migrant workforce is likely to be higher than that reported officially (Samers, 2002). Such quantitative analyses also highlight inequalities in the performance of migrant workers in the London economy (Glover et al, 2001; Buck et al, 2002; Dustmann et al, 2003). Thus, for instance, London migrants have much lower employment rates (65%) than Londoners born in the UK (78%), although migrants from developing countries show lower employment rates (61%) than those from developed economies (75%); the latter are more likely to work in professional and managerial occupations, while the former are concentrated in services and especially the hotel and restaurant sectors. Moreover, migrants constitute 46% of all workers in typically low-paid elementary occupations, such as labourers, postal workers, porters, catering staff and cleaners. People from Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and South Asia often find it especially hard to secure well-paid work, even if arriving in the UK with good skills and high level qualifications. For example, a significant proportion of migrant workers born in Ghana (50.3%), Ecuador (59.5%), Serbia and Montenegro (45.6%) and Bangladesh (45.2) work in the lowest paid occupational groupings in London (Spence, 2005). There is also discrepancy in terms of gender, with migrant women exhibiting much lower rates of employment (56%) than migrant men (75%) which results principally from women shouldering 7

9 childcare responsibilities (Spence 2005). Ethnicity also emerges as significant with migrants from Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) groups displaying lower employment rates (61%) than migrants from white groups (73%), with unemployment being especially high amongst Bangladeshis, black Africans, and black Caribbeans (GLA, 2002: 27). These groups also receive the lowest wages (ibid.; Buck et al., 2003:117) and pay rates are polarised by sector being highest for migrants employed in finance and lowest for migrants working in the hotel and restaurant sector (Spence, 2005). v As noted above, a range of factors have been identified as contributing to this concentration of migrant workers in the bottom rungs of the labour market. Perhaps the most important of these is discrimination in the labour force on the basis of race giving rise to a racial division of labour, although more recently, we have argued that a migrant division of labour has also emerged that is not just determined by race or ethnicity (May et al., 2006). Many migrant groups experience difficulties communicating in English, suffer from a lack of skills and low qualification levels which also result in occupational inequality. Yet, even when qualifications are taken into account, BME and migrant workers are still more likely to be in a lower level occupation than their White counterparts (Mason, 2000: 55). While this provides an important overview of the patterns of how migrant workers are inserted into the London labour market drawing on the Labour Force Survey and the Census, it fails to capture the experiences of migrant workers, and in particular how they organise their daily survival. Migrant workers and survival in London Methodological issues This paper draws on a questionnaire survey and in-depth interviews conducted with workers in low paid sectors of the London economy. Our broad aim was to explore who was working, and under what conditions, at the bottom end of the labour market. To this end, the questionnaire survey (for which we worked with London s Citizens and a team of eleven researchers) vi sought to investigate the pay, working conditions, household circumstances and migration histories of workers in four key sectors of London s economy (for further details see Evans et al., 2005; May et al, 2006). These were contracted cleaning staff working on London Underground; general office cleaning; hospitality workers, particularly focused on luxury hotels in the City centre; and home care employment. In addition, a number of workers in the food processing industry were included in the research. A number of strategies were employed in order to access low-paid workers who represent a hard to reach population. Access to workers was arranged through existing contacts with trade union 8

10 representatives, through snowballing and also via a random cold-calling process. While contact with some workers was made at or near the workplace or in work agencies (for example, respondents working for London Underground were either approached in over 40 stations or at one line depot in North London), other interviews took place in cafes outside of working hours. The majority of interviews were conducted face-to-face in a range of languages including Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and French. In total, 341 low paid workers were interviewed of which 307 were migrants, and it is the latter data set that this paper draws upon. The migrants came from 56 different countries with significant numbers from sub-saharan Africa (55%) (especially Ghana and Nigeria), Latin America and the Caribbean (15%) (especially Brazil, Colombia and Jamaica), Eastern Europe (10%) (especially Poland), and Asia and South East Asia (7%). They included a range of documented and undocumented migrants. In-depth interviews have followed on from the questionnaire survey and have been conducted by the authors. In the main, access to respondents has been facilitated by following up on people who participated in the questionnaire survey and expressed an interest in being interviewed while other workers have been accessed via snowballing. These interviews have both explored some of the issues raised in the questionnaire in greater detail while also examining some new areas. As such, the interviews have gathered information on migration histories, settlement experiences in the UK, attitudes and feelings towards employment, household circumstances, coping strategies, together with issues surrounding community identity and linkages with home countries. We are still in the process of interviewing and this paper draws upon 24 interviews that were available at the time of writing. As such, while we cannot claim the data is representative of all low paid employment in the city, our survey and in-depth interviews have covered a large number of workers and companies. Migrant workers coping strategies in London Everybody is struggling to survive here. It s a rich country but if you can t work, nobody will survive in this country, it s too hard and too tough, but in my country it s so easy, so easy. But in this country, it s too hard, I can t imagine it, it s too hard. If you don t do work for one week, you ll get spoiled, no way to survive isn t it? It s a tough place. (Ahmed, carer from Bangladesh). Given the precariousness of their work as well as poor wages and conditions, migrant workers have to develop a range of coping strategies which enable them to survive in London. Here, we examine the main types of coping strategies, namely income-maximising and consumption-minimising strategies (Benería and Roldán, 1987; also Chant, 1996; Gonzáles de la Rocha, 1991). In turn, we discuss the operation of these types of strategies across a variety of scales ranging from individuals to households to communities (Smith and Stenning, 2006), as well as within the workplace, the 9

11 household and the community in terms of context. Where relevant we also highlight the wider social and political consequences of some of these mechanisms. Individual income-maximising strategies in the workplace Dealing first with individual coping mechanisms, it is clear that the most practices relate to incomemaximising within the workplace. While work and perceived opportunities to earn an income was the single most important reason why people had migrated to London and/or the UK in the first place (in over a quarter of cases in the survey) (see Evans et al., 2005), it was also the main coping strategy developed by migrants in London. Even though migrants were concentrated in low-paid service sectors characterised by precarious working conditions, they still managed to negotiate their labour market position in terms of the types and number of jobs they engaged in, and making the most from the jobs they had managed to secure through various types of intensification. One major strategy to maximise income developed among individual migrants was to accept jobs that did not match their educational and skills levels. This was due to variety of reasons including the fact that migrants skills and qualifications were not recognised in Britain, they needed to work in order to survive and the only opportunities open to them were in low-paid public reproductive and service sector jobs. Furthermore, even though migrants were poorly paid in these jobs (earning on average 5-40 per hour (with the National Minimum Wage at the time of the survey being 4-85)), these wages were almost always higher than what they would have earned in their own countries. Our research shows that many of the migrants were very well-educated. One half of all the migrant workers interviewed had attended primary or secondary school, and 48% had acquired tertiary level qualifications. Just under half (47%) held an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, while just over half (53%) held vocational or professional qualifications. Many migrants working as cleaners and carers in London previously worked in professional occupations including as an architectural technician, a doctor, several as primary school teachers, a chemical engineer and various types of managers (in either family businesses or in one case as a procurement manager for Unilever). This process and acceptance of de-skilling was often the only way in which migrants could enter the UK labour market and ensure their survival (see also Bloch, 2006). Chris, a former architectural technician from Ghana attempted to explain why he was working as a cleaner on the London Underground earning 5.05 an hour. To change environment, how do you call it? To change environment is not easy at all. So from class A to class C, let me put it that way, it s not easy so I have to cope with the situation. There s nothing I can do. In my life I have never steal or do something like that. I always try to work, do something that s of benefit to me. So when that happened to me that leads me to say I can t go to the street, do some pickpockets, do something like that, I have to work. Whether the work is cleaning job or washing cars, I have to do it to survive. 10

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